December 5, 2022

How has the history of the peace processes with the ELN in Colombia been?

Read Time:6 Minute, 45 Second


(CNN Spanish) — To speak of peace agreements with the ELN guerrillas is to speak of decades of failed processes and governments that have tried to negotiate, unsuccessfully, throughout the country’s recent history.

This time the government of President Gustavo Petro is once again attempting a negotiation with the oldest guerrilla in Colombia who, after years of suspension of talks with the government of Iván Duque, has conveyed his intention to accept an agreement to lay down his arms.

Will it work this time?

Dialogue table between the Colombian government and the ELN in Ecuador, on March 15, 2018. (CRISTINA VEGA/AFP/Getty Images)

The ELN negotiations of Santos, Duque and Petro

In October 2022, representatives of the Government of Colombia (led by President Gustavo Petro) and the ELN announced from Caracas, Venezuela, that they would reinstate the talks table, after a three-year pause, crossed by the Government of Iván Duque.

“For the Government of Colombia and the ELN, the participation of society in this process is essential in the changes that Colombia needs to build peace,” reads a joint document signed by the parties. The Government of Colombia said that compliance with the protocols agreed upon between the State and the ELN is a “fundamental step to achieve total peace” and that it is giving the ELN “full guarantees” for its return to the table of conversation.

The dialogue process will reset after the first week of November 2022.

This is the continuation of the peace negotiations with the ELN that advanced during the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.

These negotiations began at least since 2014, the year in which the exploratory dialogues between the parties began. And in 2016 the start of the peace talks was announced after reaching an agreement and establishing a six-point agenda: participation, democracy, transformation, victims, conflict and implementation.

During those negotiations, peace talks were marred by a weak bilateral ceasefire that the parties agreed to in 2017, when the ELN stopped firing for the first time in 52 years. But with accusations of armed actions from both sides, the truce was finally broken, and the agreement gradually weakened, so much so that in April 2018 Ecuador suspended its participation as facilitator of the talks until the armed group ceases its hostilities.

File photo: Pablo Beltrán, representative of the ELN in the peace talks (left) and the chief negotiator of the Government of Colombia for the talks with that guerrilla, Juan Camilo Restrepo, speak at the Archbishop’s Palace in Quito on March 3, 2018 (Credit: RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)

With the end of the Santos government in August 2018 and the arrival of Iván Duque —a staunch opponent of a negotiated solution to the conflict— the peace talks with the ELN were frozen, as Duque called for an end to the kidnapping and armed actions by part of the guerrilla group.

“A forceful gesture is needed towards the Colombian people and it has to be the release of all those kidnapped. If that premise is fulfilled and these criminal activities are terminated, we are ready to start that exploration,” Duque said weeks after starting his term. , in September 2018. The ELN asked the Government to continue with the dialogues.

But an inexcusable event for Duque led to the definitive suspension —during that administration— of the search for peace with the ELN: a terrorist attack with a car bomb at the National Police Cadet School in the south of Bogotá in 2019, which the guerrilla was awarded.

At that time, the ELN said in a statement that “it has insisted on agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire to generate a climate favorable to efforts for peace, this proposal has had significant national and international support, but the government response has been negative.”

Since January 2019, Duque has terminated the dialogue table with this illegal armed group, due to the lack of guarantees and the will of the ELN to advance in the search for peace.

The ELN or the FARC, which group is more radical?

Petro lifts arrest warrants and tries a new negotiation

One of the bets of the Petro Government, at the beginning of its mandate, is what it has called “total peace”, which is the negotiation with all the armed groups to end the war in the country. As part of this commitment, he approached the ELN and both parties agreed to continue with the 2016 agenda, suspended for several years.

So in August 2022, Petro lifted the arrest warrants and extradition requests against the ELN chief negotiators, in force since the Duque Government, and a month later the guerrilla delegation left Cuba —where they had been since 2018— heading for Venezuela. to return to the negotiating table.

For this new stage, Petro has considered Venezuela “key” in the peace talks with the ELN, for which he invited Nicolás Maduro, the disputed president of the neighboring country, to be the guarantor of the negotiations, a request to which Maduro immediately agreed.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (center) speaking alongside Peace Commissioner Rodrigo Rivera (left) and Gustavo Bell (right) in March 2018, as he ordered government negotiators to resume talks with the latter group active rebel of the South American country, the National Liberation Army (ELN). (Credit: PRESIDENCY OF COLOMBIA/AFP/Getty Images)

The failed negotiations between 1975 and 2014

The first peace negotiations between the governments of Colombia and the ELN date from 1975, when the Colombian Army practically dismantled the central command of that guerrilla and the ELN communicated its interest in laying down its arms to President Alfonso López Michelsen. The government accepted the proposal, but the guerrillas never arrived, alleging military operations that prevented their displacement, says a documentary account of the failed peace agreements made by the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, CIDOB.

In the 1990s, the government of President César Gaviria (1990-1994) succeeded in getting the ELN to sit down for negotiations for the first time, and the result was slightly encouraging: the Corriente de Renovación Socialista, an ELN dissident, demobilized in 1994. But the bulk of that guerrilla group never laid down their arms and continued committing crimes, according to a recount by the think tank Ideas for Peace.

During the government of President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) a rapprochement with the ELN was attempted again, this time with Magnucia’s conversations”, so called because they were made in the German city that bears this name. In 1998 a pre-agreement was signed between “civil society” and the ELN, backed by the government, to start a peace process, but an ELN attack in Antioquia that left 70 people dead It clouded the progress that had been made up to that point.

Finally, during the government of President Álvaro Uribe, between 2005 and 2007, exploratory phases began in Cuba and Venezuela for rapprochement with the ELN, with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez and the Governments of Spain. , Switzerland and Norway, according to the CIBOD count.

Francisco Galan (L), one of the leaders of the Colombian rebel group ELN, speaks to the press before his arrival at the Narino Palace on April 03, 2008, in Bogota, to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. (Credit: AFP PHOTO/Inaldo PEREZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Out of those exploratory dialogues came a document entitled “Proposal Agreement Base National Government — ELN”What then the local press reportedwhere the foundations for a negotiation are laid and it touches on issues such as the bilateral ceasefire, the cessation of hostilities, the release of hostages and a roadmap to move forward with the negotiations.

According to the Barcelona Center for International Affairs, a disagreement between the parties, the ELN’s non-compliance with the Government’s immovable conditions, and the weakening of then-President Uribe’s relations with Venezuela, led to a weakening of the rapprochements, until the dialogue reached an impasse, which was revived with the government of Juan Manuel Santos almost a decade later.

With information from Melissa Velásquez, Fernando Ramos, Florencia Trucco, Stefano Pozzebon and Kiarinna Parisi



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